This Side of the Pecos
by Synchronik
This Side of the Pecos
by Synchronik

hhhelen8: JC is so cuddlyyyy!
Synchronik: He is. He's the sweetest thing this side of the Pecos.
hhhelen8: How could Chris resist?
Synchronik: He couldn't. He can't
Synchronik: I don't know why they aren't all boinking him all the time
hhhelen8: Perhaps they are.

Lance first noticed that JC was cute when he started growing his hair out. He'd known before, in the empirical way that he knew double entry accounting gave a more accurate picture of rolling expenses than single entry accounting, but he hadn't actually thought "wow, JC is cute" until JC came into rehearsal one day in a t-shirt with "popslut" written on it, his hair shaggy around his face.

"Hey, Lance," JC said, pushing his hair back behind his ears.

Lance looked at JC's hair, at his clear blue eyes, at the slope of his spine under his t-shirt, and thought "jeez, he's hot."

"Hey," he said.

He asked Joey about it at lunch.

"What?" Joey said, around a bite of sandwich. "JC?"

Lance shrugged helplessly. "I know. Stupid. But, he's just. Look at him."

Joey squinted over at JC, who was standing and eating chips off of Justin's plate. He had a hand in his back pocket, and laughed when Justin tried to swat his hand away. Lance had a sudden urge to come up behind him and slide a hand up his arm.

"I guess," Joey said. "I mean, whatever."

Lance sighed. "Not 'whatever.' He's cute."

"Sure, whatever you say." Joey took another bite of sandwich.

Lance put his head down on the table and closed his eyes to the gawky sound of JC's laughter.

"Bass!" Chris shouted down the hall. "Lance! Wait up!"

Lance turned. Chris jogged up.

"Joey says you think JC is hot," he gasped.

"Oh for christ's sake!" Lance started to walk away.

"No, no!" Chris grabbed at Lance's sleeve. "Is it true?"

Lance ran a hand through his hair. "Kind of. I just said he was cute, that was it."

Chris tilted his head up, eyes narrow. "You think he's cute?"

"Well, um. Sure. Don't you?"

Chris nodded. "JC's adorable. I like his new hair. It's soft, or something."

"Yeah." Lance breathed, thinking of JC's hands in it, holding it back while he leaned into the mic, eyes closed.

"So, I was just wondering. You know. If it was true."

"It's true."

"Okay," Chris said, nodding as if something had been settled in his mind. "Later."

"Later," Lance said.

Chris had always thought JC was cute. Attractive. Hot. Since the first time Joey'd introduced them one too-hot afternoon. JC'd been thin then, and pretty, just like he was now only with a slightly larger nose. He'd had the same hands though--long and narrow--and the same blinding smile. Chris'd wondered that day what it would be like to kiss this kid with the French name, whether his mouth would be soft like his words, and he hadn't really stopped wondering, except for Dani.

JC didn't help matters much, especially in those horrible days after the break-up when all Chris wanted to do was lie with his head under the covers and cry. JC kept coming into his hotel room and bringing food. Sometimes, he would just leave it on the table, and sometimes if it were ice cream or salad, or something else that would go bad if it were left out, JC would sit on the edge of the bed and pat him on the shoulder.

"C'mon, Chris," he'd say. "Eat something for me, okay?"

and Chris, unable to deny JC, who was just the sweetest person on the planet, would tug the blankets down and eat something while JC smiled at him.

Sometimes, JC would stick around after Chris ate and sit on the bed with him and watch TV. Once, when they were watching some sappy romantic movie and Chris was about to tell JC to turn the fuckin' channel already, JC leaned over and took his hand, folding it between both of his, and murmured "it's okay." He'd stroked Chris' hair while he cried.

So Chris guessed that yes, JC was cute. A little.

The next day, when JC rolled into the studio in a tanktop, John Lennon sunglasses holding his hair back from his face, Lance glanced over at Chris and rolled his eyes. Chris smiled.

"Joey says you and Lance got the hots for JC," Justin said afterwards, while he was pulling take-out from the bags.

"Joey can't keep his damn mouth shut," Chris muttered.

"So, it's true?" Justin sat down with his container of shrimp lo mien cradled between his knees.

Chris shrugged. "Kind of. You know. He's been lookin' good."

"I'm lookin' good," Justin muttered, and Chris understood.

"Yeah, yeah," Chris said. He leaned over the back of his couch, and slung his arms around Justin's neck, pressing his nose just under Justin's ear. "Mmmmmm," he said, and grinned when Justin giggled.

"Okay, okay!" Justin said. He pulled away and smiled up at Chris. "I'm just sayin' don't forget who your best friend is, when JC's your boyfriend."

"Oh, sure," Chris snorted. "I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you."

Justin had been in love with JC in the beginning. Not just kid stuff, Justin thought, but honest to god real and true love. He'd told JC about it on his sixteenth birthday, pulling JC away from the party by the pool into a dark corner of the backyard.

When he'd finished the confession, staring out into the darkness past JC's shoulder, JC hadn't said anything for a while. In the distance, Justin could hear Chris' high-pitched screeches and Joey's rumbling laugh, and splashing. Then JC reached out and touched his hand.

"Oh, Justin," JC said. "Thank you. That's ... that's so beautiful."

"But, um, so. Do you think there's, like, a chance, or anything?" Justin had asked. His hand was sweaty in JC's and it embarrassed him. He wished he were smooth about things, like Joey was.

"Justin," JC said, and he could have stopped there, because no one used that tone of voice to say anything good, but he didn't, he kept going. "You know I love you, Justin," he'd said. "A lot. But you're young, and I'm young, and with the group and everything. I just don't think so. I'm sorry."

Justin had nodded, then, and thought his chest was going to crack wide open and spill his heart onto the deck.

"Oh, honey," JC had said then, and pulled Justin close. They'd stayed that way for as long as Justin dared. JC smelled like chlorine and sweat and sun. Then they'd gone back to the party and Chris threw Justin in the pool and his mom let him have beer and JC still smiled at him whenever he looked over there, so everything was okay.

Everything was still okay. There were still moments, now and then, when Justin would feel a pang somewhere deep in his gut, but that was just because JC was so sweet. You couldn't help but love him.

JC showed up the next morning in jeans and an old blue t-shirt so tight you could almost see through it.

"I'm tellin' ya, he does this just to fuck with me," Lance muttered, gazing at JC through the gap in his fingers.

"Us, to fuck with us," Justin said. Lance grinned at him.

"Look who's talking," Chris said. "Have you seen some of the shit you wear, man?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means you dress like a hooker," Joey said, sitting down with his cup of coffee.

"Does that make you his pimp?" Lance asked.

"Fuck off," Joey said, shoving at Chris' laughing face.

JC would sleep anywhere, anytime, if you gave him the chance, so when Joey found him on a burnt orange couch in a crappy lounge that afternoon, he wasn't surprised. JC'd cut out while Chris and Justin were doing solos, but they were almost done now, and everyone was leaving and Joey'd been sent to locate missing band members.

"Hey," Joey said, crouching down. "C. Time to go."

JC slept small, curled up with his knees almost to his chest, hands under his chin. He took up just over half the couch. His t-shirt rucked up exposing the smooth caramel skin on his spine. His sandals were alongside, lined up neatly.

"JC," Joey said, touching the hair that fell across his face. It was surprisingly soft. "JC."

"What the heck's taking so long, Joe," Chris said, Lance and Justin close on his heels. "Let's get the hell out of --"

"Oh," Lance said, standing at the end of the couch.

"Um," Justin said.

"Yeah," Joey said. His hand was still in JC's hair.

"Okay, question," Chris said softly, leaning one hand on Joey's shoulder. "Why the hell aren't we sleeping with him?"

"Good question," Justin breathed.

"I slept with him once," Justin said in the van, twisting around so he could see JC sprawled across the bench seat, his head in Lance's lap.

"Yeah?" Joey looked up.

"Yeah." Justin sighed and turned back around, slumping so that his cheek was against Joey's shoulder. "In Europe. I had a bad dream."

"Mmm," Joey said. He raised his arm and Justin slipped under it. It was hard to remember that Justin was an adult now, no matter how tall he got, when his shoulders were still bony kid shoulders under Joey's arm. "How was it?"

"Weird." Justin closed his eyes. "Good, though. He's warm."

"Sure," Joey said. Behind him, he heard the light sound of Chris' whisper and Lance's deep laughter.

"Do you think he plans it?" Chris asked, narrowing his eyes at JC, who was on Joey's back, his pants pulled tight against his ass.

Lance shook his head. "He couldn't. It wouldn't be as cute. Look at Justin, man."

Chris glanced through the glass at Justin, hands clamped over his ears, singing.

"What about him?"

"Well, he's cute, right? But manipulative. Every time I think Justin does somethin' charming, I think he's spent six hours getting it just right. Remember when he and Britney went out and he brought her, like, six dozen roses?"


"It's forced," Lance said. Then he head jerked up and his eyes widened. "Oh god."

Chris shifted his eyes back to JC and saw that Joey had shaken JC loose and was bent over, cradling him like they were doing the tango or something. JC was almost parallel to the floor. It was a move only Joey was big enough to pull off, holding JC low to the floor like that, and Joey was a bastard for using his size as an advantage. JC squirmed and giggled in his grip, a giggle that turned into a bark of laughter when Joey swooped him up and threw him over his shoulder.

"Fuckin' Joey," Chris said. Lance patted his shoulder.

The problem was that JC was so amenable to everything as long as it didn't mess with the recording schedule. So when Justin wanted to drag him out into the lounge and give him a backrub, sitting on JC's butt and gliding his hands up under JC's shirt and smiling over his head at Joey, JC would let him.

And when Chris wanted to order take-out sushi and fed it to JC one piece at a time with his fingers, JC shrugged and said "sure, but nothing with legs still on it, okay?"

And when Lance, who rarely took naps except on tour, would curl up on the couch with him and stroke his hair, JC just smiled and sighed and fell asleep on him.

Joey just grabbed JC around the waist or swung him off his feet or knocked him down and caught him before he fell. When Chris told him it wasn't fair, Joey swept him up, too, and pinned him against the wall and held him there while Justin tickled him.

They did it like that for a while, first one person monopolizing JC's time and then another, but it wasn't very efficient because there were four of them and only so many hours in the day, and JC had other things in his life. For some reason, Chris kept getting stood up (if you could call JC getting his own lunch and not letting Chris drive him to the drug store stood up, which Chris could and did, loudly), and Justin had to miss a few nights because he had things to go to with Britney so the world wouldn't know she was boinking one of her dancers, and it became pretty clear pretty quickly that four people was too many to share one JC.

"We should do teams," Justin said. "I call Joey."

"No fair!" Chris said. "Joey can lift JC over his head. I want Joey!"

"Hey!" Lance said.

Joey just grinned. It was true, he could, although he didn't very often. JC was not as light as he looked.

So Justin got Joey, and they got Mondays and Wednesdays and Thursdays. Lance and Chris got Tuesdays and the Friday-Saturday block to make up for Joey's physical prowess. Sundays alternated.

"So, um," Justin said, while Lance was writing up the schedule. "What do we do with him?"

"Dude, you're not really a virgin, are you?" Joey asked.

Chris and Lance exchanged glances and smiled.

But it turned out to be more of a team sport than a competition, something Chris managed by sliding into the lounge one day and grabbing Joey's hand. "C'mon, c'mon!" he whispered, eyes big. "Lance is going to get him to take off his shirt!"

"Shut up!" Justin whispered back, and they got back to the lunch room door just in time to see Lance pretend to trip and dump a small cup of oil and vinegar dressing over JC's shoulder.

"Jeez," Joey murmured. "That was the worst fake trip I ever saw."

"Lance can't act for shit, man," Justin said.

"Shut up, shut up," Chris said. "It worked, didn't it?"

Joey was about to say, "no, it didn't work, dumbass," when it did. JC's hands hooked around the hem of his t-shirt and he lifted up and across in one swift motion, and he was standing there in the lemon yellow sunlight in his jeans and nothing else, Lance dabbing at a splotch of dressing on his collarbone with a thin napkin.

"Oh," Justin said. "Thanks, Chris."

"Anytime," Chris said.

"Okay, new rule," Justin said, coming into Lance's hotel room. Lance looked up from his spot on the bed, a local newspaper open before him. Chris was leaning up against him trying to pick something for tomorrow, when it would be their turn with JC. Joey followed after Justin, hands in his pockets. He shrugged at Lance's inquiring look.

"What?" Chris asked.

"You can't be around when it's our turn."

"What?" Chris demanded.

"You're too ... funny, or whatever. Like even when it's our turn, you're hogging him."

"You're kidding right?" Lance asked, laying one hand on Chris' thigh just above his knee. "You want Chris to stay away from JC on the bus? The tour bus? The little tiny tour bus?"

"Yes," Justin said. "Can't you take him?"


"You should've picked me," Chris said. He leapt off the bed and into Justin's grasp. "Admit it, kid. You should have picked me, because I am luring the elusive JC with my rapier-like wit."

"Okay, okay," Justin said, pushing Chris back until he was standing on the bed. Lance dragged the newspaper out from under Chris' feet. "I should have picked you."

"Hey," Joey said. "You just haven't seen what I can do. I've been holding back."

"And why should you have picked me?" Chris demanded, poking Justin in the chest. Justin sighed. Lance sighed, too, because Chris was just getting started. It was in the excited tremor of his voice.

"Because of your fantastic amazing wit. Or whatever."

"That's right!" Chris crowed.

"Because you all can't compete," Joey said.

"I got him to take his shirt off," Lance said, holding his hand up to ward off Chris, who was prancing all over the bed in his stocking feet, singing "me me me" in soft voice.

"I can take my shirt off," Justin said.

"It would be, like, cheating for me to use all my skills on JC. He's got no defenses, man," Joey said. It wasn't clear who he was talking to, since Chris was still dancing on the bed and Justin was peeling his shirt off, but Lance was nodding anyway. "I wouldn't do that to my close friends."

"I am the one who got his shirt off," Lance said, louder.

"See?" Justin said, flexing. "JC ain't got nothin' on me."

"You should picked me," Chris said, hopping.

"C'mere, you jerk," Lance said, and yanked Chris' hand. His foot hooked on Lance's rib and he fell and Lance turned and pulled simultaneously so that Chris ended up on his back, legs hooked over Lance's side. "You okay?" he asked.

Chris nodded, eyes big and wired. "Sure."

"Good," Lance said, and kissed him on the nose. "You idiot."

"You still have to stay away from him," Justin said. Chris threw his shirt at him.

"He's so damn sweet!" Justin groaned, flopping down on the next to Joey's lawn chair. JC beeped his horn and waved, and Joey waved back. Bye bye, JC, he thought. Bye, bye, bye. "He makes my teeth hurt."

"He is," Joey admitted, wondering how sweet it would be to lean over and sink his own teeth into the firm flesh of JC's neck. JC would wriggle, he guessed, and gasp and lurch in Joey's arms. He would be hot and salty, and gorgeous, and would sigh in Joey's hands and--

"He said Chris and Lance took him to the museum the other day," Justin said. Joey nodded. JC would sigh, and lean in, and his hands would be on Joey's shoulders, and when Joey pressed forward JC wouldn't back up, but his thighs would spread so that -- "He likes expressionists."

"Impressionists," Joey corrected, absently.

"Sure. The paintings that look kind of blurry. And that painting of the clocks dripping. He likes that guy. Dolly."

--so that Joey could slide one leg in between them and pull JC against it, like he was some kind of slut or something. JC might like that, Joey thought, because even though JC seemed pretty innocent and sweet, he also seemed a little like the kind of guy who might find grinding on one of Joey's sturdy thighs--

"They're winning," Justin said, in a tone of voice that meant he, Justin, hated the idea of losing.

"Uh huh," Joey muttered. Because it didn't matter who won or lost JC affections as long as Joey could still grab JC's wrists and pull them back behind him, stilling him there while Joey licked his neck and--

"Whatcha thinkin'?" Justin asked, propping himself up on his elbows.

Joey shrugged, averting his eyes.

"Yeah," Justin said. "Me too."

And part of the problem was that JC was so naturally affectionate that he would do things that would make your heart lurch up into your throat and stop beating. Like when Lance was sprawled on his stomach on the thick carpeting in Johnny's den, propped up on his forearms while they were throwing ideas around for the new tour, and JC crawled up and lay down next to him, his cheek on Lance's shoulder and one arm looped over Lance's waist. Lance froze for a moment, eyes meeting Chris', and then ducked his head, resting his chin on his wrists and holding still as if JC were a bird that would fly away if he moved too suddenly. JC fell asleep there, and Lance held still for almost half an hour before JC sighed and turned onto his other side.

Or when he would sneak up behind Justin and start kneading his shoulders with long thin fingers until Justin was rocking back and forth under his hands, grunting with pleasure every time JC bore down. When JC let go, Justin would slump backwards against his thighs and JC would smile down at him and brush his hair back from his forehead, and Justin would think he was in love all over again.

And JC was great about doing small things, like when he bought Chris a new copy of the first Indigo Girls cd after some TV. appearance where Chris had mentioned it, like he knew that Chris would come back to the bus wanting to hear it, wanting to sing. JC sang along, taking the low parts, following the words in the cd book with his finger.

Or how JC was the one who followed Joey all around the set for the video after Joey hurt his leg, making sure that he had everything he wanted and that he wasn't too tired and that he had someone to look at while Wayne was watching the playback and squinting in dissatisfaction.

JC was just so naturally kind and charming that it was kind of hard to forget how he looked in one of the small t-shirts he liked to wear, or jeans that slid down over his hips until it was clear that he probably wasn't wearing underwear. And even if you did forget, Justin muttered to Joey one day while JC was standing up on the stage in a tanktop, his hands stuck in the back pockets of his jeans and a pale strip of his flat stomach showing, you loved him anyway.

"Yeah," Joey said. "Bastard."

Chris showed up on a Friday, a pizza balanced on the tips of his fingers.

"Oh, hey," Lance said. "I told Joey and Justin they could have him. Didn't you get your voicemail? They're takin' him to the waterpark or something."

"JC doesn't like anchovies," Chris said, twirling the box.

"Neither do I," Lance said.

"Sheesh." Chris rolled his eyes and shoved his way past Lance. "See if I try to do something nice for you ever again."

The pizza didn't have anchovies on it; it had pepperoni and sausage and extra cheese, and they ate it on real plates in front of Lance's flat screen television and watched Star Wars on DVD. Afterwards, Chris carried the plates to the kitchen and rinsed them off.

"Chris," Lance said, watching him scrape crusts into the garbage disposal. "What are you doing here?"

Chris glanced over his shoulder. "I thought we could plan. You know, plot out our next moves. Joey and Justin keep taking him fun places. They're gaining on us."

Lance shook his head. "No way. They're taking him places they like. We're taking him places he likes. We're definitely ahead."

"Okay, so what next, then?" Chris dried his hands on one of Lance's pristine white dish towels.

"C'mon." Lance waved him over. "I been lookin' up stuff."

Lance took him into the office room and leaned over his shoulder, pointing to stuff on the computer screen. Chris smelled sharp, like some sort of woody soap, and his hair was soft when Lance had to push it down so it didn't poke his eye out. He jittered in the chair, tapped his fingers on the desktop next to the mouse, and smiled up into Lance's face when Lance showed him the Orlando Sings the Blues homepage.

"That's perfect," Chris said. "He's going to love that."

Lance grinned back. "He's going to love us."

"Oh yeah, baby! We're so in. We're in like--" He yawned, looking like a hyena with his eyes squinched shut and his mouth wide. "I should go. What time is it?"

"Um ... three forty?"

"Shit. That's late. Or early."

Lance nodded, his own eyes suddenly heavy. And Chris still had a twenty minute drive. And smelled spicy, like pepperoni. Lance blinked. "You should stay."

Chris twisted in the chair. "Hmmm. 'kay."

"Kay," Lance said. Chris followed him to the linen closet and back down to the living room like a good dog, curling up on the cushions almost before the sheets had settled on the couch. "You alright?" Lance asked, hand on the light switch.

"mmmph," Chris said. Lance turned out the light, and stumbled to his own bed.

But Chris couldn't sleep. Even though he had a blanket, the room felt too big and chilly and open, and the blanket smelled of a fabric softener that he didn't use. And Lance's couch was strangely hard, and weird shaped. It curved inward and forced Chris to lie straight on his back, which he hated. He tipped onto his side, and closed his eyes.

A minute later he spread out on his back, his waist pressed against the hard curve of the sofa.

Then he rolled onto his other side. The couch leaned heavy into his back.

When he sprawled on his stomach it seemed like the couch curved upward, pressing into his gut. Chris felt like he had the first night he was at summer camp the one summer his mom had scrounged together enough money to send him, when he was awake in the top bunk of the bunk beds and realized he'd forgotten his stuffed dog Bonzo and he wasn't going to see his mother for a week. Everything was unfamiliar and awkward. He rolled over again.

Finally, he grabbed the blanket and dragged it upstairs.

Lance was just a small lump in the wide blue expanse of his bed, lit by the slash of yellow light from the hallway.

"Lance," Chris whispered. He leaned over the side of the bed, looking for Lance's face in the bedclothes. "Lance, I can't sleep."

Lance's breath was soft and even. He slept deep, Chris remembered from when they all used to share a bus.

"Lance, your couch sucks and I can't sleep," Chris said, louder. "Lance, I hate your fuckin' designer furniture. Lance, you have the most uncomfortable couch in the whole damn world and I know you could have paid good money for a hide-a-bed, Lance, cause that thing down there is like some sort of--"

"Stop saying my damn name." Lance's voice was low and rough from sleep.

"I can't sleep," Chris said, wondering if maybe he should have gone home instead of waking Lance up. It wasn't like his house was that far, and Lance seemed pretty pissed.

"Yeah, I got that." Lance rolled over and shoved the covers off his face. "Get in the bed."


"Just keep your hands off me, that's all I ask."

"Hey, hey," Chris said, shoving back the covers and climbing in. "What kind of guy do you think I am?" He sank knee deep into Lance's plush feather mattress and squirmed down under the sheets, snuffling against the pillows.

"The annoying kind." Lance rolled onto his back. "You okay?"

"mmhmm," Chris said. The fabric softener still wasn't his, but the pillow smelled like Lance, so that was okay.

He woke up the second time some time after dawn, buried under the covers and under Lance, who had one heavy leg over him and a hand shoved up his shirt. Lance was breathing heavily in his ear. Chris shifted closer, and went back to sleep.

He hadn't always been able to spend a lot of time with Justin, before, because first there was JC, who was kind of Justin's babysitter, and then there was Chris, who was some sort of weird father/boyfriend/best friend combination, and then there was the fact that Justin was Justin and was kind of self-centered a lot of the time. Now, though, Justin was always coming onto his bus and flopping down across from him and saying "hey, man" and grinning. Joey liked it.

He liked being able to talk to Justin without Chris around because Chris always brought out the crazy kid in Justin, which was fun, but exhausting. This Justin, the Chris-less Justin, was quieter and funnier and knew al sorts of shit that Joey didn't know he knew. There was the afternoon, for example, when Justin turned to him and said, "yo, Supremes or Vandels, man?" and they spent an hour talking about high Motown. Justin knew a ton about Motown, Joey found out that afternoon, especially the girl groups, and Joey thought that Justin's first crush maybe wasn't Janet Jackson but Diana Ross.

Justin also understood comfort food, like hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, which none of the other guys got, especially JC, who sometimes forgot to eat. Joey didn't know how someone could forget to eat, but JC did all the time, and when he was reminded would just say "oh, yeah" and have a handful of Doritos or some carrots or something. Justin made tuna noodle casserole and had them stop the bus so he could bring some over to Joey.

Joey lay on his couch, flipping channels and watching Justin flip out. The kid was going insane, Joey thought, smiling.

"I know they have him," Justin said. He stalked across Joey's field of vision and back again. "Ever since they took him to that jazz club they think they're the hot shit. They've probably got him at some art theatre thing."

"Why don't you call them and find out?" Joey said, pausing at Baywatch. God, he loved reruns. Justin sat down on his feet, and Joey heard the chirping of the cell phone. Onscreen, Pamela Anderson Lee talked to Yasmine Bleeth about something Joey didn't care about. At the end of the couch, Justin was bitching into his phone.

"Hey, Lance, this is Jus--oh, hey Chris. Look, Joey and I don't think it's fair that you have him when you know it's ... you don't? Don't fuckin' lie to me, man, because ... no, I knew that ... Shut up! I knew that! ... Whatever. You know this means tonight wasn't our turn. ... It wasn't our turn! Fuck off, Kirkpatrick."

Justin tossed his phone on the table and slumped down onto Joey's legs. "Chris says JC's at the studio with Leah Bishop."

"Mmmm," Joey said. Pamela was tossing her head back and forth like a pony.

"He says this counts as our turn."

"Mmmm," Joey said.

"It doesn't though, I told him, because that's not fair that we don't even get to see JC on our turn. I mean, he's recording or whatever, so this doesn't count."

"Sure," Joey said. Pamela and the other blond girl were running now, to save some teenage kid. Running, running, running.

The screen went black.

"Hey!" Joey said. Justin tossed the remote onto the floor, smirking.

"You weren't listening to me," he said.

"Duh!" Joey smacked the side of his head, feeling the rasp of Justin's hair against his palm. He wasn't sure that he liked the way Justin's hair looked now that it was so short, but he liked the way it felt well enough. "So JC's not coming over. Now what?"

Justin sighed, stretching out over Joey's legs until he was lying across Joey's stomach on his back, looking at him upside down. Joey smiled. "I dunno," Justin said. "I was hoping to get him to go running."


"Yeah." Justin sighed again, but this time it was a loopy sigh, full of wishes, and Justin closed his eyes and smiled. "He gets all sweaty when he runs and his hair gets all wet and he'd take off his shirt if I did."

Joey snorted. "You're pathetic, kid," he said.

Justin sat up, brows drawn together. "Shut up, man. What, you had a better idea?"

"No." Joey laughed. "But I didn't have a lame-ass idea about JC running, either."

"Okay then." Justin folded his arms over his chest, and pulled his knees up. He scowled at the blank face of the TV.

Joey looked at him for a second. "Hey," he said, poking Justin with his sock. "You wanna do something?"


"I said," Joey repeated, jabbing Justin in the ribs with his foot for each word. "Do. You. Want. To. Do. Something?"

"Quit it." Justin grabbed Joey's foot. "Sure, yeah."

"Okay." Joey drew his feet back and leaned forward, ready to sit up, and that was when Justin's shirt hit him in the head. "Hey!"

"I'm hotter than JC, anyway," Justin said, crawling up on his hands and knees, planting his palms on either side of Joey's head.

"Umm," he said.

Justin laughed. "C'mon. You know he's too skinny and boney, I don't care how cute his damn hair is," he said, running a hand over Joey's stomach. And Joey meant to say something like "put your shirt on kid," or "jeez, you pervert," but he didn't because Justin was right--he was hotter than JC with his buzzed short hair, and his sharply defined arms, and his mouth, which Joey had never noticed before was pouty like a girl's--and Justin was climbing all over him like he, Joey was hotter than JC, and Joey had never been the type of guy who said no to a good thing.

And Justin was very good.

Chris put on a good show, Lance thought, but he was really very self-sufficient. He acted like he couldn't be trusted with stuff, like he was careless with people's things and sort of mean and unreliable, but Lance was learning from close contact that Chris was really not very needy at all, and just liked to let people think he was high- maintenance so they would pay attention to him.

There had been times since the lawsuit when Lance felt like the father of the group, like he had to watch out for everybody and make sure that no one was doing anything too stupid or too risky, that no one was getting taken advantage of. Justin and JC, especially, would lose their heads and forget where the were or who they were talking to, Justin because he was too used to people kissing his ass, and JC because he was too na•ve to remember that the radio exec at his table might not be looking out for his best interests. Chris never forgot. He said sharp things, sometimes, but he never forgot.

More than that, though, Lance liked having Chris around because Chris would let him make dinner or fix his hair or arrange for his laundry to go to the same service that Lance sent his clothes to, but he knew that Chris wouldn't starve, or even complain if Lance had to work or something. And when Lance would come to bed, trying to undress quietly in the dark, Chris would wake up and snuffle closer and murmur "hey, Bass," in his sleepy high voice.

The Mickey Mouse Club thing was sick, if Justin really thought about it. Which he did, when he woke up the next morning on Joey's satin sheets. He'd laughed at Joey when Joey got the sheets because satin wasn't sexy--it was cheesy, like leopard print and spike heels--but he'd been wrong about the satin, it turned out. It was sexy, especially against his skin. It made him feel naked. More naked. As if that were possible.

But, so, maybe he'd been wrong about JC, too. Not that JC wasn't cute, because he was, very cute. Pretty even, and Justin had always fallen for pretty people, people like himself with delicate even features and thin contoured bodies, like works of art. JC was just like that, even more so than Justin, so Justin had thought that it was perfectly natural to be in love with JC, to want to touch JC, or watch him take his clothes off. Normal.

But maybe it wasn't.

Joey wasn't pretty, not at all. He had kind of thick features, like, so Italian and typical and not all delicate. Joey just wasn't a delicate guy. He was thick through the middle and didn't care enough about it to do a thousand sit-ups with Justin every morning. And he had arms twice the size of JC's, bulky with muscle and not entirely defined. Joey's muscles weren't just for show, like Justin sometimes felt his were. They were for picking things up, and pushing them against the wall and pinning them there, suspended, while Joey whispered things like "you want it?" and smiled. They were for holding things close in the middle of the night, so close that sometimes it was hard to breathe, but that was alright, because it was Joey.

And Joey could get away with things that JC could never get away with. Like calling Justin "baby," for example, which sounded stupid and mildly insulting when JC or Chris did it, but sounded sweet and guileless when Joey did it. "Hey, baby," Joey would say, sometimes, first thing in the morning, one big hand on Justin's stomach and Justin would feel like an adult, not like a kid being made fun of like when JC said it, because Joey didn't mean it that way.

Plus, even though he'd known Joey for almost as long, Justin didn't think it was natural for him to want to spend so much time with JC, not when they had been on MMC together before Justin had even hit puberty. That was some sort of incest thing, and JC had been right to say no. Those, at least, were Justin's thoughts, until Joey kind of woke up and slung his arm around Justin's neck, murmuring "get your ass over here."

Lance didn't stop looking at JC, not at all. JC was still the prettiest thing he'd ever seen up close, especially when he smiled. No one smiled like JC. But the smile didn't do the same things to him anymore: his appreciation of JC's smile had become something abstract, like his appreciation of art, or a fine wine, if he had liked wine, which he didn't because it always gave him a headache. Now, when JC smiled, Lance thought "ooh, pretty" but he didn't feel it in his gut like he had before.

"Aesthetic," Chris said, when Lance told him. He nodded sagely at Lance's reflection in the bathroom mirror.

"What?" Lance grabbed the hair wax off the counter and scooped a blob of it onto his finger.

"Your appreciation of JC has become aesthetic," Chris said. Lance rubbed his hands together to spread the goop around and then slid them through Chris' damp hair. Chris closed his eyes.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Chris' hair was thick naturally, and stood up with very little provocation from Lance. He just ran his hands through it the wrong way a few times and then stroked down the errant pieces. "There," he said.

Chris opened his eyes and turned back and forth in front of the mirror. "It's kind of spiky," he said. He squinted at himself in the mirror.

"That's how you like it."

"Okay," Chris said. He twisted again, and smiled at his reflection. "This is how I like it?"

"Aesthetic," Lance said.

"Right. So, like, you've gone from lusting after JC to just thinking he's beautiful. It's like, lusting with your mind instead of your heart." Chris turned to face him. "You're sure this is how I like my hair."

"Ah have lusted in mah heart," Lance said, throwing his arms out wide.

"You're a fuckin' freak, Bass," Chris said, and kissed him on the nose. Something in Lance's chest lurched.

"Okay, Kirkpatrick next," the make-up woman said, looking at her chart. She had a eye pencil stuck in her hair, and smudges under her eyes, and looked like she was going to punch someone when Chris said, "no touching my hair!"

"Fuck," she muttered. "Get in the chair. You need foundation."

"Don't touch the hair," Chris said. "This is how I like it."

"Yeah, fine, whatever," she said. Chris grinned at Lance in the mirror and didn't glance away, even when JC sat in the chair next to him in red leather pants and a shirt that laced up the sides.

Afterwards, after they'd sang and won and made some hysterical awards speech that involved JC saying "oh my god, thank you!" a hundred times like a dork, Chris went back to Lance's house and took a bath with him.

"This is weird," he said, sliding into Lance's huge tub. Lance, who was already chin deep in warm water and bubbles, laughed.

"You sleep with me every night and have a closet in the spare room and this is weird?"

"None of that involved nudity," Chris said, letting Lance pull him until he was resting against Lance's chest, between Lance's legs, his head on Lance's shoulder. Lance's laugh in his ear sent shivers down his spine.

"Maybe they should have."

Chris closed his eyes. "I can't believe you have bubble bath, too. You're such a girl."

"Uh huh," Lance said, shifting his slick body against Chris' back. His hands slid down Chris' ribs and linked loosely over Chris' belly. "I have you, what do I need bubble bath for?"

"You have me?"

Lance's hands jerked away. "No, um. Chris, that's not what I mean. You know--"

Chris slipped around to face Lance, his arms gliding around Lance's solid smooth waist. "It's okay, Bass," he murmured against Lance's throat. "You got me."

"Hey," JC said, after rehearsal a week later. "You wanna go get something to eat?"

Joey looked at him, at his pretty blue eyes and his half-smile. "I wish, C," he said. "But I've kind of got plans."

"Oh, okay," JC said, nodding. "See ya, then."

"Raincheck, C," Joey said, feeling a little bad. Chris and Lance had already left because it was his and Justin's night, but he and Justin were going to this crazy club Justin had heard about on the internet where they played old thrash metal and electronica and everyone danced until they puked. It wasn't JC's thing, really.

"Sure," JC said, and flapped his hand at Joey. "Later."

Later, on top of Justin on his new tile floor while Justin yanked at the belt on his leather pants, Joey would remember and tell Justin about it.

"What?" Justin asked, raising his chin so that Joey could lick his neck. "Can you lift up, please? Shit."

Joey lifted his hips and felt the looseness as his zipper came down. "He asked me to go to dinner," he said, while Justin's hands slid down the back of his pants.

"No underwear, man," Justin breathed. "What'd you tell him?" His hands squeezed Joey close. "God."

"I had plans."

"You did." Justin squeezed again and lifted his legs so that his ankles crossed behind Joey's back.

"I know, I know--" Joey shuddered. His cock rubbed on the rough denim of Justin's fly. "But it was our night."

"Let Chris and Lance have him," Justin murmured, twining his arms around Joey's neck. "You've got plans."

"I've got plans," Joey said, and groaned when Justin kissed him.

Justin was kind of unbearably hot, and loved to do it in unusual places like the kitchen floor. He would whine and squirm and say things like "fuck me, Joey," in a breathless voice, and Joey would do his best to oblige. This time, Justin came twice while Joey fucked him, holding Justin's thighs up with his hands behind Justin's knees. Joey gasped "I love you," a minute or two after he came, shuddering, staring at the silver refrigerator door.

"Yeah, you do," Justin said, slapping him on the ass.

Joey lifted his head from the sweaty curve of Justin's neck. "Oh yeah?" he said, and lifted his feet off the ground, settling all his body weight on Justin's stomach. "Oh, yeah, smartass?"

"uuuugggghhh," Justin said. "Get off."

"Feelin' pretty smart now, huh?" Joey asked, bearing down. Justin groaned. "Whaddaya gotta say now, Juppy?"

"Love you," Justin wheezed. "Fuckin' love you, man."

"That's right," Joey said, and rolled off him onto the cool tile.

"Jesus, Joey," Justin groused. "You could have cracked a rib or something."

"Say what you want, baby," Joey said, stretching until he heard his spine crackle pleasingly. "You love me."

"Do not," Justin said, clambering to his feet. "Can't stand you."

"Whatever. Fetch me a turkey pot pie, bitch."

Justin flipped him off, but when Joey stood up and held out his arms, Justin stepped into them willingly enough.

They had just gotten to the good part in Justin's opinion, the part where Joey was grabbing the edge of the table and grunting "fuck, yeah, fuck" because Justin was getting him just right, getting them both just right, with their pants around their ankles, and Justin rocking back on his heels, feeling like a god and a porn star watching his cock slide in and out, when JC came into the room.

Joey had his head down, his cheek pressed against the glass, so he didn't see the door open, didn't see JC's pale face.

"Fuck!" he said, twisting around when Justin stopped. "What the fuck, Justin? You're killing the mood!" Then he must have seen Justin's face, and it must have looked as startled as Justin felt, because Joey reached down and grabbed for his pants before he turned around and said, "hey, um, C. What's up?"

JC blinked. "I, um. I thought I heard something, so." JC's face was starting to turn really red. "Are you two, um?" He lifted his chin in their direction and Justin realized that his cock was still out, still half-hard, and his pants were around his knees. He grabbed his pants and yanked them up, almost scratching himself with the zipper. It seemed stupid to say no after that.

"Kind of," he said.

"Oh," JC said. "I didn't know."

"It's. You know. New," Joey said, buttoning his jeans.

"But you're in love?" JC asked.

"Well," Joey said, right as Justin said, "we haven't really."

JC nodded. "Okay, then. Um. I'll just go outside."

"Okay," Joey said, nodding. Justin felt his own head nodding, too. "See ya."

Justin waited until the door was completely closed before slumping onto the edge of the table. "Jesus!" he murmured. "What the fuck!"

"I thought you locked the door," Joey said.

"I thought you did. What the fuck do we do now?"

Joey shrugged, his big shoulder bumping against Justin's. "I know one thing," he said.


"We can forget about fucking JC."

Justin laughed so hard he cried. After that, Joey kissed him.

"Joey and Justin are sleeping together," JC said, face flushed. Chris jerked his head up.


"They're sleeping together. Joey and Justin." JC's hair was standing up in a series of points, like he'd been running his hands through it.

"How do you know," Lance asked, and Chris was reminded why he loved Lance so much. Lance could just look up from his magazine and say shit like that, shit like "how do you know two of your closest friends are sleeping together?" and sound like he hadn't woken up in the same bed as Chris for the last two weeks. Lance was a cool motherfucker.

"I walked in on them." JC sat down on the couch next to Lance.

"Just now?" Chris asked. Lance patted JC's arm. JC seemed a little freaked out by the whole thing, and Chris knew for a certainty that JC hadn't walked in on some sweet scene of Justin curled up in Joey's lap.

"Really," Lance said. He cast an amused glance at Chris. Chris made a face at him.

"Really," JC said. "They said it was new, or whatever, but they should have told us. I mean, I could have used the heads up, you know?"

"Sure, sure, honey," Lance said.

"Hey, JC," Chris said. He leaned over and took Lance's hand. "Heads up."

"Okay, okay." JC shook his head quickly like a wet dog. His hair flopped into his eyes. "How exactly did this happen?"

"Um," Justin said.

"It's kind of complicated," Lance said.

"And boring," Chris said. "Complicated and boring. Like a soap opera."

"Yeah, C. You don't want to know." Joey shook his head.

JC rolled his eyes. "Fine. Be that way." He stood up. "I have to go pick Bobbie up from the airport, and you all are sneaky bitchy bastards who won't tell me how you fell in love and left me out in the cold."

"JC--" Lance said.

"C, man--" Justin stood up, but JC yanked himself away, grinning.

"No, you selfish jerk! Get away! You can keep your secret for now, my friends, but someday you'll tell me, mark my words! Mark. My. Words!" He slammed the door.

"Freak," Justin said, plopping back onto the couch and looping his arms around Joey's neck.

"Complete freak," Chris agreed. He tipped back into Lance's lap and smiled up at him. Their kiss was slow and soft.

"Hot, though," Joey said. "Did you see that shirt?"

Justin punched him.

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